Mediation skills help school children to heal in Ukraine

Children whose lives have been torn apart by conflict are learning how to resolve their quarrels.

UNICEF
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UNICEF
15 April 2019

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to devastate lives and communities, there is one place where people are looking for peaceful solutions.

You will find it on the first floor of a school in Sievierodonetsk, in an office with glass walls, pot plants and a round table in the center. This is where schoolchildren practice mediation – resolving quarrels through communication.

Today, a group of high school students have been learning how, through a series of workshops, lectures and practical classes.

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UNICEF
Mediators and their teachers gather in a mediation room in a school in Severodonetsk, Luhansk area

Kyrlo was forced to flee the ongoing violence in his home town in 2015.

“Before, I would react to unpleasant words aggressively, and now I don’t care,” he says. “I understand that everybody has their views, and there is nothing you can do about it. My friend and I first signed up to learn mediation just because we were curious about what it was like. And then it turned out that it really helps in life.”

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UNICEF
Anastasia (L) and her classmates speak about the mediation classes at the school in Severodonetsk, Luhansk area on March 13, 2019.

Nastia is also internally displaced. Like over ten per cent of students at this school, she was forced to flee the violence at home, in December 2014. Starting over at a new school in a new city was tough.

“I had a fight with my friend,” she recalls. “She started hanging out with another girl, and I was jealous and very angry because of that. I told her: let’s go and try it out. We came there, told them the entire story – and even cried at the end.”

The mediation classes have helped Nastia to handle difficult situations.

“Even when you know that the person is definitely wrong, you can’t tell them that. You need to be just an intermediary and not take sides.”

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UNICEF
Mediators and their teachers gather in a mediation room in a school in Severodonetsk, Luhansk area on March 13, 2019.

Head of the project and school vice principal Svitlana Demchuk believes more must be done to help school children to heal.

“It is still scary to ask mediators for help, and not everyone wants to – they don’t believe that it is confidential and sometimes don’t believe that it will work out,” she says. “That’s why I sometimes organize ‘friendship’ weeks with the children – where they are told about peaceful co-existence through games.”